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The Seed&Spark Blog

A New Empowered Mythology

April 21, 2015

• Emily Best

This speech was originally given at the Side by Side Conference at Sarasota Film Festival, organized by Tangerine Entertainment and Leah Meyerhoff of Film Fatales 

I want to start by firing a shot across the bow. 

The Hollywood studio system as it exists today is built to produce and market products to 18-24 year old men. It’s not even really built to tell stories, let alone to strive to foster art. Which means it’s not built to employ us or our ideas. In the rise of the blockbuster, Hollywood has created the ultimate culture of scarcity for women. It teaches us that part of being a filmmaker is that you're an island nation competing against other island nations. In this culture, everyone must be against everyone else; there simply isn't room for friendship. In a culture of scarcity, it’s a perfectly natural response to clamor to survive by the rules as you understand them. So before we go any further, let's all forgive ourselves—and all our sisters throughout history—who've succumbed to a behavior labeled as “cattiness.” It's nothing more than the outward expression of a survival instinct.

Now, if the business model designed to sustain the studios is not built for women, who is its intended beneficiary? The simple answer is: white men. But by no means all white men. It’s a fortress built for a very few white men, conceived to be impervious, whose gaze has shaped the tools of our industry. The way we've been trained to imagine how the camera moves and sees, how we've been taught to run our sets, write our business plans, and sell our souls to the studios as soon as we get the chance—all of it is built for a certain type of man. How many more times do we have to talk about Deborah Granik before we heed her mythology? Hollywood should've been beating down her door after Winter's Bone, an Oscar nominated film that broke Jennifer Lawrence onto the scene. Since that film premiered FIVE YEARS AGO, she’s not been able to get a studio deal. (She’s still making her work, of course.) Just last week at a women’s film salon that convenes at my house once a month, a 60 year old director responsible for 60 hours of premium television and three tv movies was asked to be moved off the feature film she’s written by a prestige actress because she’s a “first time film director.” This same actress just starred in the first time film of a 20-something year old man, for what it’s worth. We hear these stories so often they’re becoming the only myths we have to guide us.

But, what if we could generate a new mythology? What if we could find new stories, new role models, to help us reimagine what we can become over the next decade?

I, for one, am not interested in the mythology generated by a culture of scarcity—which is why I have a fundamental problem when independent film is treated like a springboard to help artists vault the studio walls. I don’t think independent films are calling cards. The major studios make 6-8 films a year, and spend a total of $3-4 billion producing and marketing them. Independent filmmakers in the US alone also spend roughly $4 billion on production. But we make over 15,000 films. And that's what makes us the 8th studio: the most prolific, influential one of all—if only we could collectively reimagine what we do, and the impact we are already making. 

My endgame is not to build the pyramids. I'm not interested in enslaving 10,000 people to erect a tomb for one dead pharaoh. 

I would rather use our collective effort to build, first, a village out of the materials immediately available to us—wherein everyone occupies the space they need, rather than as much space as they can lay claim to.

We don’t live in a society anymore where the reach of a single studio film, or even a TV show, is enough to incept a ubiquitous conversation—let alone affect measurable change. In fact, their development cycles are so slow that it’s very difficult for studio fare to stay even remotely responsive to a world that moves at the pace of social media and instantaneous interconnectedness. (Which is why Hollywood is still making drivel for 18-24-year-old white dudes, when they aren't even the primary theater-going demographic anymore.)

A single studio film will never reach 100 million people. But 10,000 artists can reach 10,000 people each—if they carefully cultivate their audiences. If those 10,000 artists work to gain, not individual, but collective independence, that’s a movement. And if we make that our goal—to get thousands of women reaching thousands of people, rather than elevating a few dozen who might reach millions if their ideas survive the studio gauntlet with anything close to integrity (wonderwoman)—we're already winning. Everyone in this room, every woman who's made a film on her own terms, raising her own independent financing, IS THE BASIS FOR A NEW EMPOWERED MYTHOLOGY. We aren't paving the road for a future generation of women who will benefit from our sacrifice. We already are the solution.

So I want to talk about Independence film: It’s a class of film that wants to give rise not just to its own voice but to contribute to the rise of hundreds and thousands of other unique voices. It is a class of film that is produced in a culture of plenty: It teaches as it learns, shares what it knows, offers resources to other filmmakers, and contributes to a new system that doesn’t require any more shitty reports about how we’re still racist and sexist. Independence Film is about how there’s enough for all of us because we're making it together—for everyone's independence. 

It’s a challenge to every filmmaker: to be responsible for the business of each of your films so that every investor, every crowdfunding contributor, every audience member wants to come back again and again. It is ruthlessly holding ourselves and our peers to incredibly high standards of excellence. It’s collaborating so that we can share resources and learning, so that each film is made on the most efficient budget possible with the greatest possible return. It’s sharing audiences with one another, knowing that together we can take better care of them than “independently”.

Who better suited to lead the collective effort in which we take care of one another, share with one another, and are responsible to one another? It takes a village to grow an audience, and who better suited to raise this new breed of independence films than women?

My hope for today is that we can be both fearless with one another and ruthless in our pursuits because we know we are in it together.

 

Read more by

Emily Best

Founder and CEO of Seed&Spark

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